Philippine militants demand £1.5m ransom for tourists

The fate of 21 people abducted by Filipino Muslim rebels hung in the balance yesterday, with the hostages, who include 10 foreign tourists, traced to a remote island in the southern Philippines and their kidnappers reported to be demanding a ransom of 100 million pesos (£1.5m).

In a day of fast-moving developments, the group of captives - taken from a Malaysian resort island on Sunday - was sighted on Jolo island, in Sulu province, a lawless region notorious for pirates, bandits and religious insurgents.

Philippine naval, air force and army units were deployed in preparation for a rescue attempt, but the authorities in Manila were still hoping to secure the release of the hostages through negotiation.

There is little doubt that the hostages are being held by rebels connected to Abu Sayyaf, the smaller of two guerrilla organisations fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines. Two of them, who are Malaysians, are expected to be freed shortly because they are Muslims.

The Philippine Defence Minister, Orlando Mercado, said yesterday that the group had been located near the town of Talipao, 600 miles south of Manila, in the Sulu Sea. Local officials had "indicated to us that they are alive", he said, adding: "They are well. They don't look any worse than when they were taken."

Mr Mercado, who yesterday visited Jolo, a mountainous island which is one of the largest in the Sulu group, said of the captors: "We don't know for sure, but these personalities are a mixture of Abu Sayyaf and former [rebels] and are known for kidnap for ransom."

Military forces have been sent to secure the area around Talipao, on Jolo, part of an impoverished group of islands.

The hostages - three Germans, two South Africans, two Finns, two French tourists and one Lebanese woman, plus one Filipino and 10 Malaysians - are believed to have been taken to Jolo shortly after being seized from a resort on Sipadan Island, in Malaysia's Sabah state, off the coast of Borneo island. On Jolo, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, the hostages were split into two groups and moved from one hideout to another to avoid detection, Mr Mercado said. They are reportedly being held under the command of a guerrilla leader known as Commander Robot, who police say is notorious locally.

A military report said there were 15 kidnappers, not six, as reported earlier by Malaysian and Philippine officials. They are said to comprise 12 Malay-speaking people, two speakers of Tausug, a southern Philippine language, and one person of Caucasian appearance.

Abu Sayyaf rebels are currently under attack in their stronghold on nearby Basilan island by government troops who are trying to rescue 27 Filipinos, mainly schoolchildren, who have been held hostage for more than five weeks.

Joseph Estrada, the President of the Philippines, yesterday appointed Nur Misuari, head of the Moro National Liberation Front, to be the government's negotiator with the kidnappers. The MNLF, once the country's largest Muslim rebel group, signed a treaty with the government in 1996.

Five more people were arrested in Sabah by Malaysian police, in addition to five detained on Tuesday on suspicion of abetting the abductions. According to military officers, kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative sideline in recent years for separatist rebels. "One day they are Abu Sayyaf, the next morning they are bandits, the next they are pirates," one officer said.

Although the Philippine head of military intelligence, Major General Jose Calimlim, confirmed that the hostages had not been harmed, there were fears for their safety. Abu Sayyaf rebels have not shied away from violence in the past. Last week they claimed to have beheaded two of their captives on Basilan because the government had failed to meet their demands: the release of two Islamic extremists in jail in the United States, including the mastermind of the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.

Mr Mercado said he did not know whether the abductions from Sipadan were related to the military assault on the Abu Sayyaf base on Basilan. Asked how quickly the situation with the Malaysian group could be resolved, he replied: "Only God can determine how soon it will be over. Our basic consideration is the safety of the hostages. At the same time, we hope we will bring an end to this kidnap for ransom gang. They have obviously extended their evil intent into neighbouring countries."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manage...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service Engineer - Doors / Windows

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist designer and ma...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn